By paul

Paul: Hey Tom, its been a topsy turvy year for Walnut Tree, starting well, then sinking in the middle and then ending up as probably the best point in the label’s history. How would you sum up 2009?
Tom: A little bit of a rollercoaster to be honest! The year started well as we’d just come off the back of a fairly successful “25 Rocking Days Of Christmas” competition in 2008, so people were starting to hear more about the label and it was good to see my ideas being picked up on. A fair few people on Punktastic were interested in my first release of the year too, Bayonets ‘Wishes & Wishes’, and the reception that got was great. I then released the Portman EP, which I still think is a great record, but it was very hard to get anyone interested in the band and throughout the summer I really wasn’t enjoying working on the record label as a whole. That definitely wasn’t Portman’s fault, lead singer Matt and bass player Toby in particular have always been very supportive of me, and in fact are two of the reasons why I’m still running the label. I just lost a lot of heart from seemingly getting nowhere and feeling like a failure. I work full time in the music industry and I’d started to hate the industry and the people you have to deal with at times. I felt the best thing to do would be to end with a bang and that’s when I had the idea for Punktastic Un-Scene 5 and luckily you agreed to it and came up with the charity donation idea too! June and July was spent preparing the release and stressing out over whether to continue or not, and the idea was that I’d let that run throughout August and then on September 1st I’d announce that I was ending the label. What I didn’t expect was to have such a positive response on the compilation and then quite how many people would contact me as a result of it. In addition to that we suddenly had coverage in some major magazines, Bayonets in both Rock Sound and Kerrang and Portman in Kerrang. On September 1st I ended up running a £1 sale and selling almost three hundred cds instead, and had picked up two new bands in Tiger Please and Viva Sleep off the back of it. Since then I’d say the label has gone from strength to strength – Tiger Please have really upped my game and its great working with them. Them featuring in the Kerrang Introducing slot and joining the Kids In Glass Houses tour were the two highest profile moments of the labels history. Viva Sleep are a talented bunch too and their release is really allowing me to be creative with the actual physical copy, which I’ve always wanted. The Christmas packs sold well too, so December was very kind to me!

Paul: What were your high and low points on a personal and label basis?
Tom: On a label basis I was really stoked with the coverage of Bayonets, Tiger Please and Portman in both Kerrang and Rock Sound magazine. To have my label included in magazines that I’d read growing up was great and gave me a massive confidence boost. I’ve read a lot of people recently say that it’s not that big a deal and no one reads magazines these days, but to me it meant a lot and hopefully the same magazines will continue to feature my releases. Tiger Please will be on the cover CD for February’s Rock Sound, so we’re starting 2010 off well there. The low points came in the summer when I was feeling like I wasn’t doing a good enough job and that I was ready to move on. It bummed me out and I’d put all of the groundwork in place to end the label, so I came pretty close. On a personal basis – I’ll have to say that moving into a new place with my girlfriend was a high point (in case she’s reading this…obviously). I also managed to travel to a few places – most notably to see Blink-182 in San Diego and combine that with a trip to Vegas and the Grand Canyon with some of my oldest friends and my brother. I had ambitions of it being like ‘Riding In Vans With Boys’, but we just didn’t have the same budget. I did manage to walk away from Vegas having made a bit of money (okay, so it was only $180) though. The low point was probably spending my birthday in hospital, I’d been having dizzy spells and they kept me in for an MRI scan and general other bother. Turns out that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, but it didn’t stop it being a really worrying weekend.

Paul: What is the release schedule looking like for 2010? Any new artists you’ll be working with that you’re prepared to announce?
Tom: The first release will be Viva Sleep’s EP, ‘The House Of Viva Sleep’, which we’re releasing in February. The lead singer, Neil Kennedy, recorded Waiting For Sirens’ (and now their new band Towers too) debut EP and had been in a fairly well known UK band before. I absolutely love what they do. It’s a very punchy Brit Rock take on bands like Hey Mercedes, Braid, At The Drive in etc. The band are also very realistic about their aims and what they can achieve and I felt that the whole pressure had been taken away from the release, which can be a good thing. To make it stand out a bit we’ve decided to hand press the copies – initially starting at one hundred and twenty, with each member and the label taking twenty photographs that we’ll use as the artwork. We’ll print them out properly and then every copy will be individual. I know Tubelord did something similar last year, and I’ve just been told that the Shins used Polaroid pictures before, but we’re certainly not attempting to rip off those ideas here. It’s going to be fun, we have all taken our twenty photos now and I’ve got the job of getting the copies ready. In terms of new artists, I’m really pleased to announce that I’ll be releasing the Burn The Fleet EP this March / April. I’ve been aware of the band for some time now and was pretty chuffed when they approached me about releasing them. The five tracks have been re-mixed and mastered and will sound a massive step up from the demo versions. The band are brilliant live and have a really charismatic front man in Andy Convey too, which certainly made the decision easier for me. Ross, the bands drummer, actually works with Neil Kennedy at The Ranch production house and some of the band live with Tom George, the lead singer of Waiting For Sirens / Towers. It’s very inbred down in Southampton! We’re looking at putting the EP out in early March, so keep a look out for the various ways we’ll be trying to promote this! After that we’ll have to go again and see what we’re up to – it would be nice to see new releases from both Tiger Please and Bayonets this year. Neither are signed to any long term contracts so it’s not a guarantee. I think I’ve done well with both bands up to this point, so we’ll see what happens. Portman, unfortunately, will not be releasing anything this year or any other year though! While they’re not a proper Walnut Tree Records release, I’m also looking to get back into distributing a few smaller US releases (as I did with The Walnut Tree distro in 2007). Nothing is concrete yet but I’m talking to a few bands who I’m sure people will enjoy.

Paul: How did you come across Tiger Please? Things are starting to look up for the band – what’s the plan for them in 2010?
Tom: I hadn’t heard of the band before Ryan, the band manager, emailed me asking if we could consider them for Un-Scene 5 – so he first introduced me to them. Two things stood out for me – the quality of the music and the incredible voice that Leon has. I naturally assumed that I was listening to a bunch of guys around my age (age 25) or older, and then to find that the band was made up at the time of 17-20 year olds was a bit of a shock. Every member of Tiger Please is very talented in their own way and it didn’t surprise me that “They Don’t Change Under Moonlight” came out the way it did. As for 2010, you’ll definitely hear some new material from the band. They’re currently trying to work out the best way to bring that to you – whether it’s a single, an EP etc. We’re also really pushing on with their live show and I don’t think it’s arrogant to say that we’re hopeful that they can bag a few high profile support slots. They’re a great live band and have everything in place to give it a really big push this year.

Paul: How important are the likes of Twitter and MySpace in terms of promoting your bands and the label? Is the internet more or less important to you than it was a year or so ago?
Tom: I absolutely love Twitter personally – whether that’s talking shit on my own account or using it for my label (www.twitter.com/TheWalnutTree). It’s often passed off as this mindless website where people talk about the weather and what they’ve eaten for lunch – but I’ve made some really good contacts through using it. We’ve sold a fair amount of cds, had gig offers, offers to help me with the label, even arranged part of Tiger Please’ Kerrang Introducing piece through the site. It’s free and easy to update on my phone, so I think I’ll be using it for a while yet. Myspace is a different matter from a label point of view – I seem to get fewer hits to my myspace profile than my official website, and I certainly don’t like updating it as a result. It’s all set up so people can quickly find out a bit of information such as my bands, releases, and ways to contact me and read more – but I find that only bands want to do this. I get a few mail out messages from bands asking me to sign them, but the average fan seems to email me instead. I much prefer that. I suppose part of the reason is that I’m not running this super popular label and the average WTR customer doesn’t still maintain their own myspace profile – maybe for some labels its still very worthwhile. When I released the Paige EP you found that their average fanbase were very young and myspace orientated and we focused quite a bit of our attention on that, but this just isn’t the case with my bands and releases now. The internet as a whole is very important to the label – it reduces the time taken to get information to and from people, and I’ve certainly benefitted hugely from message boards, webzines, digital webstores, twitter, facebook etc. A year ago almost 95% of my sales came through the internet, now I’d put that figure at around 75% (mainly due to sales at shows increasing for my bands), but at the same time the volume of sales has increased across the label – so I’m probably relying on it more in terms of actual numbers.

Paul: How are you finding CD sales – are they continuing to hold out or have you noticed legal download sales are eclipsing them? What have you done, if anything, to ensure physical releases still make money?
Tom: For Walnut Tree Records the physical CD sales far outweigh the legal download sales – massively in fact. I put that down to the prices that are charged – unfortunately for our itunes releases we find that they’re often £7.99 or more for some of the longer releases, even when we’ve asked for the cheapest pricing option. I wouldn’t dream of charging someone that much to buy an actual CD from me, and I think the average fan of my bands is happy to wait a few days, pay less and have the product in their hands to use as they like. Again I’m sure part of that is because we’re not a label who relies on hit singles or has the most in demand artists, but I’d also like to think that people appreciate the cheaper physical prices and the free postage we offer on most releases. The break even point on our release is often pretty low, mainly between 100-200 copies, so it doesn’t take long before we’ve paid the pressing costs off and we’re making a small amount of money. I’m also pretty quick to offer bundle discounts for my releases – like the Christmas gift packs we were selling in December. These work perfectly as it ensures that we’re still getting a good sum for the latest releases and making good use of the remaining copies of some of the older releases (which, bar one, have all just about broken even). It’s a good way to get my lesser known CDs, like Portman’s album, into some more houses too and hopefully find a few new fans. Offering incentives to buy the release is always a good idea too, which is why for my Burn The Fleet EP I’m going to look into sending out screen printed posters for every pre-order, and why we’re hand printed and numbering the Viva Sleep EP.

Paul: What’s your take on the RATM Christmas number 1 campaign? Is it a pointless waste of time or does it show the value and merits of running carefully co-ordinated internet campaigns? Is the Christmas number 1 and the singles market still relevant?
Tom: To be honest I wrote off the RATM campaign as soon as I saw the facebook event. You tend to get spammed with a lot of bollocks on facebook and none of it really appeals to me, they almost always die down after a few days. I did think it was clever and whoever came up with the idea picked the perfect song, in this instance it gave a lot of rebels without a cause a way to vent their dislike of Simon Cowell and manufactured pop music with some very poignant lyrics. It just happened to come at the same time that one of the weakest X Factor competitions was coming to a close, even though statistically the series had the most viewers ever. Joe McElderry isn’t a strong winner and the chosen song for the winner was poorly thought out. It had already been released that year by Miley Cyrus and wasn’t exactly a smash hit then. Perhaps if this was tried at the same time as Will Young won Pop Idol, or Leona Lewis had won X Factor then we wouldn’t have seen the same results. I’m not particularly well read on this though, so I’m still not sure if this was a deliberate marketing campaign by the label / PR people – or whether two kids really did just sit in their rooms and decide to give it a go. As for Christmas number 1 and the singles market – I personally couldn’t give a shit what song was number one the last Sunday before Christmas. Why does it matter that much to so many people? What actual impact does it have on their lives? However, I’m sure just as many people will wonder why I find it so important that Portsmouth were bottom of the Premier League on Christmas day or that Watford might have spent Christmas in administration. As long as people are passionate about the music that they’re into or their hobbies then I can’t really go denying them that. The singles market is quite important still, but in a different way to the old days of just simply selling physical copies. A staggering amount of people still base their music tastes on what’s in the top ten, which impacts on them paying to download music, paying to download the latest videos to their mobiles and BT vision boxes. The singles chart also has a big impact on what tracks are picked for film and TV synchronisation, video game placements etc. Sometimes the critics appear to just look at the actual numbers sold in HMV etc, and of course will then come to the assumption that it’s a worthless indicator.

Paul: Simon Cowell recently claimed the X Factor had revitalised live music and music buying. Is he right?
Tom: Without the statistics to back it up with, I don’t know whether his claims hold true for the manufactured pop song market that he bases himself in. Before X Factor came along I don’t recall too many major pop stars having problems selling their music or playing multiple dates at Wembley Arena. It was certainly harder for an unknown to suddenly be the biggest selling artist in the country within thirteen weeks, that’s for sure. It’s just a different form of marketing at the end of the day isn’t it? I personally don’t see what X Factor, which is a karaoke competition at the highest level, has done to revitalise live music. I was watching some great bands back in 1999 with thousands of other music fans, and this continued throughout the past ten years. Simon Cowell is obviously a clever guy and has some great ideas, but sometimes he’d do himself a favour if he stopped portraying himself as some industry changing genius and just got on with it.

Paul: What changes will the industry face in 2010? How do you intend to change WTR, if at all, to counter these changes?
Tom: While I don’t think it will change the whole industry I am interested to see how Guvera will work (http://www.guveralimited.com/) – the idea behind it is that brands such as McDonalds will pay for advertising on their website – and within the adverts you’ll be able to download music for free. They claim that they’re looking to make the biggest change in the media industry in history, which is quite a bold way to start things off. Will people really put up with a shit load of adverts though if they can still get the music for free elsewhere on the internet? I’m fairly sure we’ll see just as many legal and illegal downloads, just as many artists releasing good, average and poor physical cds, and just as many new websites to host music, talk to fans and show off on. In any competitive industry there will always be casualties and I’m sure a few labels will go under, but at the same time just as many will do well out of their output. Walnut Tree Records isn’t really a label that has to worry about industry changes as a whole. Unless physical CDs do literally become extinct then I’ll still release as many as I feel necessary. We’re not talking about massive numbers here. I’m still making sure that we’re offering free and paid downloads, keeping up with the latest social networking etc. Nothing too dramatic, it’s worked as well as I’d hope over the past three months and I don’t think we’re a dated label at all.

Paul: What were your favourite three records of 2009 and which three are you looking forward to most in 2010?
Tom: Outside of my own releases…I really enjoyed New Found Glory’s ‘Not Without A Fight’, the self titled Say Anything record and Owl City’s ‘Ocean Eyes’. All three are very American but are my most played CDs this year by far. In terms of UK bands I thought that Data.Select.Party’s ‘Hanging With Humans’, The Tupolev Ghost’s self titled and Dave House’s ‘Intersections’ were the top three. Dave House is the only one of the three left standing though, so hopefully I haven’t jinxed anything! This year I’m looking forward to hearing what the new Motion City Soundtrack album sounds like. I’ve loved every track they’ve put out so I’m expecting this one to be pretty decent. I’m not going to listen to any of the previews or new tracks released though, I just want to give the album a full listen on release day and find out from there. I think there are supposed to be new releases from Saves The Day, Coheed and Cambria and I Am The Avalanche too this year, which could end up being awesome or really disappointing. That’s four…which is near to three. UK releases should get a mention – I’m looking forward to the Lostprophets album, they can sometimes pull some massive tracks out of the bag and hopefully they do again. Sam Little (Eat.Sleep.Attack) and Rob Lynch (Lost On Campus) are two of my friends bringing out new music, so I’ll be first in the line to get those! I’ll also be interested to see how Towers do with their release.

Thanks Paul and Punktastic for the support since the label started, I appreciate it.

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